Through abstraction and disruption of the microbial world, Splan’s work connects viewers to the hidden materialities of science and technology in our everyday lives through tactile artworks and sensory encounters.
This fall, New York City-based artist Laura Splan’s work will be included in two major European exhibitions, and she will be presenting her work at Virginia Tech in the U.S. Splan’s work brings together science, technology, and craft to create liminal experiences with the microbial world and illuminate entanglements of biology and culture.
Splan’s colorful and intricate molecular animation “Unraveling” will be included in the group exhibition “The Hidden Side of Lace” in Belgium (Sep 24–Nov 6). Her lace “Doilies” depicting viruses, including HIV and SARS, will be presented in the group exhibition “Life Eternal: The Nobel Prize Museum at Liljevalchs” in Sweden (Oct 1, 2022–Jan 29, 2023). She will speak about her interdisciplinary artwork at “Future Bodies,” organized by the New Media Caucus at Virginia Tech (Sep 30).
“Unraveling (Marine/Aquamarine/Skyblue)” (2020), a kaleidoscopic digital animation created with molecular visualization software and SARS virus models, will be on view at CC De Ververij Ronse in Belgium. The playful manipulations of “conformations”—folded protein forms that determine biological function, including infectivity—are represented in colors from the software’s palette. In reality, viruses are colorless as they are smaller than visible wavelengths. Highlighting our romanticized notion of the natural world, the titles of the animations echo the software’s names that are evocative of idyllic representations such as blue skies, green forests, ripe fruit, and romantic flowers. Splan expands upon our understanding of lace with a textile sensibility that depicts the unraveling of individual coronavirus proteins. “Unraveling” is part of a series of artworks developed while sheltering in place during COVID lockdowns in the Spring of 2020. Splan collaborated with scientists over Zoom during a remote bio art residency with Integral Molecular, a biotech company that specializes in antibody discovery. Using the same visualization tools as the lab—Pymol, an open-source molecular visualization tool—the project comments on paradigms in software design while enlivening the virus.
Inspired by public fear and fascination fueled by sensational media reporting on infectious diseases like HIV in the 1980s and the first SARS outbreak in 2003, Splan combined the beauty of viruses with decorative patterns of lace to destabilize the familiar and domesticate the unfamiliar. Exploring this liminal experience, Splan created “Doilies”, a series of computerized machine-embroidered doilies based on the radial structure of SARS, HIV, Herpes, Influenza, and Hepadna in 2004. “The doily forms create a situation where the viewer can choose if they are thinking about disease or decoration, comfort or discomfort,” says the artist. Illustrating the precarity of life and our desire to prolong it, curators Clara Åhlvik and Magnus af Petersens have chosen to include Splan’s complete series of lace sculptures in “Life Eternal.” Splan’s work is situated among exhibits highlighting medical and vaccine research by Nobel Prize winners.
Splan will discuss these and other molecular-inspired artworks in her talk entitled “Cryptic Lineages” at the New Media Caucus “Future Bodies” Symposium at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA on Sep 30th at 5PM EST.
Laura Splan is an interdisciplinary artist working at the intersections of science, technology, and culture. Her research-driven projects connect hidden artifacts of biotechnology to everyday lives through embodied interactions and sensory engagement. Her conceptually based art practice combines a wide range of media including experimental materials, digital media, and craft processes. Her biomedical-themed artworks have been commissioned by The Centers for Disease Control Foundation, exhibited at the Museum of Arts & Design and Beall Center for Art + Technology, and are represented in the collections of the Thoma Art Foundation, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the NYU Langone Art Collection. Splan has received research funding from the Simons Foundation, the Jerome Foundation and her residencies have been supported by the Knight Foundation, the Institute for Electronic Arts, and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. She has been a visiting lecturer at Stanford University teaching interdisciplinary courses including “Art & Biology”. She is developing a new series of collaborative artworks with theoretical biophysicist Adam Lamson for a project supported by the Simons Foundation. Her research as a member of the New Museum’s NEW INC Creative Science incubator included collaborations with scientists to interrogate interspecies entanglements in the contemporary biotechnological landscape. She is currently a NEW INC Artist-in-Residence at EY where she is collaborating with the Cognitive Human Enterprise at EY on research exploring the implications of virtual technologies. Her work has been reviewed by The New York Times, Discover, designboom, American Craft, and Frieze, among others.
“...In Laura Splan’s mixed-media practice, the human body functions as both a physiological and cultural site: a conjunction of blood, bones, viruses and viscera masked by successive layers of social display...”
“...fascinating and sometimes shocking...highly imaginative work...”
“...Splan swathes scientific observation in elegance. Splan’s creations demand a double take—a second look that reveals the scholarly rigor behind the pretty surface...”
— Discover Magazine